How 2 Messages a Week are Helping 400,000 Farmers avoid Crop Loss and Increase Harvest

This article on using mobile technology for social good is part of the #Mobile4Good series & is made possible by Vodafone India.

One organization has reached out to thousands of farmers across the country through a simple SMS service, which is helping them increase yields, reduce wastage and live better.

Hemlal Prasad Yadav is a farmer from Giridih district of Jharkhand, who has always been troubled by frequent droughts. Since he lives in a very remote area, there is hardly any support or information about weather forecasts and new technologies that can help him grow his crop with very little water.

Recently, Hemlal heard about an initiative called Direct2Farm, an agro-infomediary service that helps maximize farm productivity by providing farmers with knowledge solutions to increase yield and reduce loss and wastage. He registered with the service and got crucial information on his mobile phone related to crops, weather forecasts, irrigation solutions, and much more.

Now, Hemlal is confident that he will have a good harvest this year. “This service is a life saver for farmers in this remote location, if other farmers too give their mobile numbers, then everyone will benefit from this service,” says Hemlal.

Direct2Farm has reached out to thousands of farmers around the country to provide its services.

Hemlal has benefitted a lot from the initiative.

Hemlal has benefitted a lot from the initiative.

Started in 2006, Direct2Farm is an offshoot of a larger organization named Cabi, a research institute for studying insect problems in commodity crops like coffee, tea, cocoa, etc. The people at Cabi felt their intensive research could be of benefit to all farmers for improving their harvests.

“There were not many facilities and resources that farmers could use to get crucial information. There were Kisaan Call Centres of course but to get information from them the farmers had to call these centres. How will farmers call if they aren’t even aware what the problem is?” asks Sharbendu Banerjee, global director of Direct2Farm.

On seeing the increasing use of mobile phones, the Direct2Farm team decided to use this technology to relay much needed information to farmers to improve their crop yields and reduce wastage.

The first step was to make information available to the farmers in a way they could easily comprehend.

The idea is not to push farmers and only provide them information they require.

The idea is not to push farmers and only provide them information they require.

Direct2Farm hired a team of professionals who could convert hard-to-understand scientific information into farmer-friendly language.

“We got specialised writers to draft the messages and information for the farmers. The idea was to make the farmers relate to the information so they could implement it in their fields,” says Sharbendu.

Direct2Farm sends two messages every week: one related to crops and the other related to livestock. Sometimes, when there is an urgent announcement on weather changes for example, additional messages are sent to the registered mobile numbers.

Apart from sending messages, many workshops and sessions are organized to educate farmers.

Apart from sending messages, many workshops and sessions are organized to educate farmers.

“The farmers are very intelligent. Some of them have been toiling in their fields for many years and they know exactly what they are doing. The only thing they don’t know is what they arent doing and we want to bridge that gap,” says Sharbendu.

In Sakoti village near Meerut, farmers once grew only sugarcane and had no information about other crops. They were reluctant to try new crops for many reasons, but mainly due to lack of awareness. Direct2Farm reached out to these farmers and shared crucial information about alternate crops they could grow, the water needs of these crops, marketplace information, etc. Now, Sakoti villagers are trying their hands at vegetable farming and other crops too.

To make their services more farmer-friendly, Direct2Farm sends out voice messages in local languages and different dialects too. For example, when talking about rice, the voice messages use the term jiri in Haryana and dhaan in Bihar.

Farmers can listen to the missed voice messages by just giving a missed call on a toll free number.

Farmers can listen to the missed voice messages by just giving a missed call on a toll free number.

Information like changes in sowing patterns, the use of the right kind of fertilizers, different seeds, rain forecasts and other such crucial information is sent through these voice messages.

In case a farmer has missed listening to the voice message, he or she can again hear all the eight messages of the month by giving a missed call to a toll free number provided by Direct2Farm.

“Many a times farmers are out in the field and miss out on messages. Also, these farmers are very poor so we have made sure that they need not spend anything to avail of the services. They just have to give us a missed call. We have focused on voice messages apart from text messages as many of them don’t read and are not well versed with technology. We have tried to make our services as simple and as easily accessible as possible,” says Sharbendu.

To improve the services and not “push” them on farmers, Direct2Farm also has a feature where farmers can choose the information they require so they receive messages only about the selected categories.

Direct2Farm has reached out to over 400,000 farmers in six states of India, including Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.

Many farmers have managed to avoid the potential crop loss.

Many farmers have managed to avoid the potential crop loss.

Thanks to intervention by Direct2Farm, 80 percent of the farmers they are in touch with have managed to save potential crop or livestock. Twenty five to 30 percent say they have managed to reduce their production costs too. Many farmers have seen an increase in yield of basmati rice and coffee particularly. The team has also given shape to over 30,000 agri-businesses by giving crucial advice by organizing various expert interactions, discussions and on the ground workshops.

The Direct2Farm initiative has been trying to focus on non-agricultural issues as well. They send messages about blood donation, anti smoking campaigns, girl child education, etc. too. Recently on International Yoga Day, the team rolled out messages to over 300,000 users about yoga and its importance.

Currently operating on donations and funding, Direct2Farm will soon adopt a self-sustainable model where farmers will be charged for conducting transactions using the Direct2Farm platform.

“The information will be free. We will charge a nominal fee only when they make any transaction like selling a cow or buying a tractor using our platform to connect buyers and sellers,” says Sharbendu.

In the future, the team also wants to encourage financial literacy among farmers to enable them to make proper use of various government schemes. They want to reach out to over five million farmers in the next couple of years and bring various stakeholders like banks and corporations into the picture to support the farmers.

There is so much that can be done in the field of agriculture if the farmers are given the right opportunities,” concludes Sharbendu.

To know more about the work of Direst2Farm,  check out their website.

Vodafone Mobile for Good Awards applications are open till July 31, 2015. Visit their website to know more.

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